Both the Londonderry Post 27 and Derry Post 9 American Legion baseball squads have been working intensely during the final weeks of the District B regular season to snag tournament spots.
And it was with that goal firmly in mind and both teams hovering dangerously around the .500 mark – and potentially out of tourney contention – that the rival local contingents met up in Derry on Pinkerton Academy’s junior varsity hardball field for an important contest last Friday, July 11.
From the spectators’ standpoint, the game they played was entertaining, well played, and intense, with perfect summer weather supporting the evening of baseball.
Coach Rick Brothers’ Londonderry crew walked away from the Derry field lamenting the fact that an important victory had gotten away, and the host team had every reason to feel celebratory after bagging the 3-2, walk-off victory which, it hoped, pointed it strongly toward the tournament berth it desires.
As they walked away from the Pinkerton field, both sides were left to contemplate the fact that they now had matching 6-6 records, with the 2014 summer campaign ebbing away.
Pitchers Connor Sahlin of Londonderry – by way of Litchfield’s Campbell High School – and Chase Spears of Derry engaged in a mesmerizing hurling duel, with Spears ending up victorious after working his way out of a bunch of messes and Sahlin receiving a no-decision after Derry did the damage that garnered it the walk-off win against the Londonderry bullpen.
Londonderry busted a 1-1 tie by scoring a single run in the top of the ninth, only to see Derry bag the 3-2 win dramatically in the latter half of that frame.
Along with the fact that the game ended in that manner, much of Londonderry’s frustration came from the fact that it stranded 13 runners on base and eight in the first four innings alone.
“We just left way too many runners on base. That was the big thing for us in this game,” said Brothers.
Post 27 left two men on base in the top of the first inning, three on in the second, one in the third, and two more in the fourth without plating a run to show for its considerable efforts.
And pitcher Sahlin kept Derry scoreless during that span as well, so the score sat firmly at 0-0 after four full frames.
Pitchers Sahlin and Spears then kept the score at 0-0 through six full, with Londonderry finally busting through – but just for a single run – in the top of the seventh. And the Post 27 side left the bases loaded again as well.
Londonderry got three singles in a row to start the frame, with Jake Welch thumping the third of those to drive in teammate Zach Tavano with the run.
Derry didn’t get the equalizer until the bottom half of the eighth when Chris Gerossie laced a single that plated teammate Joey Murphy, who had led off the inning with a bunt single.
The 1-1 tie didn’t stand up for long, however, as Londonderry snagged its second run in the top of the ninth when Welch led off by rapping a single, moving to second base on a wild pitch, and sprinting to third on a stolen base. He scored moments later on Rob Del Signore’s clutch single.
Leading 2-1 going into the bottom of the ninth with three outs to get to bag the important win, Brothers stuck to his strong and time-tested principles and decided not to send starting pitcher Sahlin – who struck out nine batters, walked just one, and allowed eight hits in eight innings – back out to the mound for the vital ninth and those three outs.
“He had thrown 118 pitches, and I wasn’t putting him back out there,” said Brothers. “He didn’t say anything about it, it was my call. I haven’t gotten any kids hurt in 19 years and I’m not going to do it now.”
Derry’s Riley Cahill led off the bottom of the ninth by taking a walk,
Kyle Albertelli then reached on an infield single, and both runners advanced into scoring position on Hall’s sacrifice bunt.
Londonderry relief pitcher Alex Forgues – the second Post 27 hurler of the inning – then got a second out, but Derry’s Jamie Collins followed by pounding a line drive to right-center field. Post 27 center fielder Tavano sprinted toward the ball and laid out for it, with the baseball smacking into his glove and out and away. Cahill and Albertelli both sprinted home with the tying and winning runs, and the contest was over.
With his team’s tough loss to Hudson at Alvirne High School the previous night fresh in mind, Derry coach Dylan Mullin was plenty pleased with his squad’s home victory.
“We had a sour taste in our mouths after yesterday’s game, We gave up a five-run lead in the seventh and eighth, and it was great to come out here tonight and play well and get the win,” said Mullin.
Victorious Derry finished with eight hits, with Collins smacking three, including the game-winner, and Gerossie knocking two. Londonderry smacked 11, with Welch and Tavano each collecting three, and Brett Evangelista and Del Signore each drilling two.
The winning pitcher Spears tallied four strikeouts and walked five batters and showed the kind of bulldog mentality all baseball coaches love to see.
But the Londonderry crew rebounded beautifully the next evening with a 7-0 whitewashing of Portsmouth on the seacoast to push its season record back up over the .500 mark to 7-6.